Studying in another country is seen as a rite of passage, a widening of horizons, access to a new language and culture that will open a new world of possibilities, in addition to the appeal of a degree from a prestigious institution that promises to open career opportunities after graduation.
But for many who hope to study abroad as undergraduates or postgraduates, there is a stopover along the path to a hoped-for university.
Pathway programs (over 20 years in Australia and 15 years in the United Kingdom) are very widespread and well established. They are run by many universities in the United Kingdom and Australia and by private providers.
However, while a few politicians have sometimes worried that pathway colleges are somehow a cause for concern or a cover for unwanted immigration, as has recently been raised in the Netherlands, a very different story is told by the global experience of established centres.
Such programs are not any ‘back door’ because the university’s exit tariffs for progression from the university route are always equivalent to those set for direct entry.
Universities always have oversight of quality standards, and the regulator also has oversight of provision in many countries. For example, here in the UK, the Study Group is on the HE Register under OfS.
The standard is rigorous, and their hopeful students’ care by teaching and support staff is truly impressive.
Pathway programs allow overseas students to prepare fully and take advantage of the next opportunity.
Those with ambitions to study engineering, law, business or architecture, for instance, acclimatize to local culture and improve their language skills in an environment that specializes in supporting international students, particularly in ways that will be specifically relevant to their course.
This transition process also gives a university the confidence that these international students will hit the ground running and succeed in their degrees.
Education systems in different countries worldwide are all more or less different from the host country’s education system, so it is unreasonable to expect students from one country to move smoothly to another. To prepare international students to perform at least on a par with domestic students, if not better, that is what path programs are for.
This is a long way from the misunderstanding that, before entering their degrees, pathway students are somehow below par simply because they take the time to improve their language and study abilities.
Students from the Study Group, for example, have gone on to study for a PhD, win prestigious academic awards, and study at the best universities in the world. Graduates have become leaders in their professions throughout their world beyond that path, in no small part due to the preparation they received to get the most out of their degrees.
In other ways, Pathway programs also challenge sometimes misleading stereotypes. That can also be, for instance, an invaluable widening participation tool that allows students to succeed in their chosen degrees who would not otherwise be able to study.
Due to the education system that they come from, these are talented students who have not been able to achieve their full potential, such as Chinese students who have only had a 12-year education versus 13 years in most Western systems. A pathway program, such as a home student access program, maybe the route that allows this kind of student to demonstrate just what they have to offer.
Finally, a diverse student cohort is supported by pathway programs. Because of our global networks and international recruitment expertise, pathway providers from regions worldwide can tap into a broader talent pool than would typically be the case by direct entry.
This implies that a student cohort is more likely to include students from large and small countries, talented young people with the potential to do well in their degrees while economically and culturally benefiting their host nations.
In the process, their fellow students have the chance to broaden their horizons simply through the discussions they have and the friendships they make, without ever leaving their country.
Pathway programs create the opportunity for diverse, talented cohorts of students worldwide to ensure that their outlook and culture remain global on university campuses. And that is international education.